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Friday, 4 November 1921

Senator RUSSELL (Victoria) (VicePresident of the Executive Council) . - The amendment I have moved is in accordance with the time-honoured custom. Neither the Acting Public Service Commissioner nor any one else has made any suggestion for an alteration.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Mr. McLachlan, who was formerly Public Service Commissioner, put up a great fight against Ministers having the right of appointment.

Senator RUSSELL - The honorable senator is speaking of many years ago. Mr. McLachlan's ideas have evolved considerably since ' that time. Senator Thomas has not followed Mr. McLachlan's mind as I have. I have sat on a Committee with him. I can challenge Senator Thomas to show me any recommendation by Mr. McLachlan in his most recent report against the principle incorporated in the amendment that I have moved. I remember at one time, when I was in the Defence Department, I asked an officer to do something, and he replied, " Don't you think you had better do that yourself, sir? " I said, " Get out of the room." He got out, and did not come back. When an officer commences to interfere, and will not take instructions, it is time for him to be shifted. I knew that I had no power to dismiss him, but he did not enter my office again.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - But why should the Minister have the right to appoint the permanent head, and not the chief clerk?

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - As the honorable senator believed in that system at one time, he must then have been aware of the reasons for it.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - When I see men who were clerks a few years ago now in the position of heads of large Departments,I begin to wonder whether the methods employed in the past are the best.

Senator RUSSELL - The permanent head of a Department is the chief administrator of the policy laid down by the Government, and He must be under Ministerial control.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes, but another Government may come in, and another Minister. If the permanent head went out with the Minister the argument would be more sound.

Senator RUSSELL - I have found the officers very loyal, as a rule; but there are, of course, exceptions.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - If the officers are very loyal, that is an argument in favour of not giving the Minister power to appoint them.

Senator RUSSELL - I get a deputation once a week from returned soldiers contending that officers responsible for the administration of Departments are not giving effect to the Government's policy of preference to returned soldiers. Sometimes this is due to misinterpretation of the Government's policy on the part of the officers, and sometimes to carelessness. I find that in regard to the appointment of radio-telegraphic operators on Commonwealth ships, a contract was entered into with the Marconi Company which made no provision for preference to returned men. The company is not employing returned men in some cases in the radio service. The omission in that case was an accident, and I am taking steps to correct it. In nearly all constitutional countries the heads of the Departments are appointed by the Government, and I think it is advisable to continue that practice in Australia. The amendment is in conformity with a recommendation of the Economies Commission.

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